Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Tax & budget votes reveal actual fiscal conservatives vs. merely rhetorical ones

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We warned last week that a big property tax increase was on the horizon, and this week it became a reality.

We’re disappointed in the three commissioners who pushed through the 8.47 percent (3.66-cents per $100 valuation) tax increase: commissioners Craig Turner, Steve Carter, and Pam Thompson.

One thing we’ve learned over time is to pay more attention to actual votes, rather than to the political rhetoric.

Among the so-called all-Republican membership of the current board of commissioners, one can hear a lot of “conservative” talk; indeed, some of the best talk comes from the biggest tax-and-spenders.  While they were all elected as Republicans, at times, like this week, it’s pretty hard to distinguish some of them from run-of-the-mill liberal Democrats.

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Here’s what becomes evident from the past four budgets, as outlined in the accompanying table. (We’re only looking at their votes setting the tax rate each June, not other spending decisions in between fiscal year budgets.)

The most fiscally conservative member, based on his annual budget and property tax rate votes, is chairman John Paisley, Jr.  He voted against this year’s 8.47 percent increase, against last year’s 1.43 percent increase (above ‘revenue neutral’), and he voted for both tax rate cuts (in 2022 and 2021).  His net record on the county tax rate is thus -12.9 percent over the past four budget cycles.

We’ve also credited opponents with the reverse impact from the outcome of the budget, so Paisley voted to reduce taxes 3 percent, and opposed 9.9 percent in increases, for a net of -12.9 percent.

[Editorial continues below graphic.]

Runner-up in fiscal restraint is Bill Lashley; his record is similar to Paisley’s, except that he voted for last year’s 1.43 percent tax hike above the revenue neutral level that all commissioners had sworn to uphold.  While he now says that he regrets that decision, sort of, that’s how he voted at the time.  His net over the past four years is -10.04 percent. His rhetoric is more conservative than that, but his votes don’t always reflect his statements.

Now we get to the three commissioners who consistently appear to support tax increases.  The most disappointing is Craig Turner; he voted for both tax cuts, in 2021 and 2022, originally presenting himself like a mainstream conservative; but he also voted for both tax increases, in 2023 and 2024.  In fact, in both years, he proposed them.  His net impact on taxpayers is thus a 6.9 percent increase in property taxes over the past four years.

We particularly find Turner’s “leadership” on budgets disappointing, inasmuch as he seems to be the main driver willing to cobble together, and make motions for, ramming through both more spending and higher property tax rates.  In particular, and as previously noted on several occasions, we find his advocacy for more ABSS spending, especially troubling  – particularly when his new bride works as a principal for the school system.

It would be bad enough to vote the wrong way, but to take the lead in assembling the budget and tax package is especially distressing.

Commissioner vice chairman Steve Carter can give some of the most eloquent rhetoric about fiscal conservatism.  But don’t try to take it to the bank.  He’ll almost always go along with more spending and higher taxes.

Carter supported tax increases in 2023 and 2024; he also opposed the penny tax cut of 2021, but supported the one in 2022.  So his net score is to have voted to impose a net increase of 9.88 percent in property taxes over the past four years.

But the grand prize winner for higher taxes is Pam Thompson.  Again, she can give some good, conservative platitudes, but she’ll almost always vote for more spending – before and after the official budget season.

She opposed the one-penny tax rate cuts in both 2021 and 2022, and supported tax rate increases in 2023 and 2024.  So, her overall, four-year record is to support 12.9 percent higher property tax rate over the past four years.

Voters will get to choose this November among three Republicans – including both Paisley and Thompson – and three Democrats for the three available seats.  (Lashley isn’t seeking re-election.)

Frankly, it’s hard for us to imagine the tax situation being much worse for taxpayers if one or more Democrats were on the board, when three of the current Republicans keep voting for tax rate increases and more and more spending.

But voters can determine in November whether they prefer Paisley’s restraint or Thompson’s tax-and-spend mentality; and they may end up choosing both, since they’re both, at least ostensibly, registered Republicans and will be identified as Republicans on the November ballot.

The Hobson’s choice for voters this fall will be what to do with Craig Turner, the third member of the pro-tax Republican majority on the board.

Turner is seeking a district court judgeship.  The question is will voters “reward” him with a four-year term on the district court bench – and perhaps with the subliminal hope that the local Republican Party will select an actual fiscal conservative to serve out the remaining two years of his term on the board of county commissioners?

Or will they be too repulsed by his pro-tax record, not willing to stomach giving him that post – and want to “punish” him for that pattern by depriving him of that judgeship?

Of course, it might be difficult to determine who’s punished more by keeping him on the board of commissioners: Turner by being denied the judgeship, or the voters themselves, who will then be stuck with the current high-taxing philosophy he increasingly represents.

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